Why is there an icthus on this house? I stand on the porch of my as-yet-unmet neighbor, one hand holding onto my two-year old, the other poised to knock. The wooden fish with the IXOYE has me trying to make sense of it all.
My husband, our four children and I moved into this southern California neighborhood two weeks ago. My older three are at school. An invitation in the school newsletter to a Christmas cookie exchange party at this address, just around the corner from my house, has brought me here. I’ve observed children emerging from this house when I walk my kids to catch the bus. Beautiful cocoa-brown skinned children but I don’t think they’re Hispanic. The last name, according to the newsletter, is Isaacs. Hmmm, Isaacs sounds Jewish explaining perhaps the darker skin but they obviously celebrate Christmas; now here’s this symbol of Christianity.
The mystery expands when a pretty woman with skin as white as my own opens the door.
“Welcome. I’m Carolyn Isaacs.”
Does my face betray my bewilderment? I quickly introduce my daughter and myself. Carolyn calls her own pre-schooler from the den and our girls scoot off to play. I place my plate of cookies on the table. As is typical I’m the first to arrive. But this gives opportunity to get better acquainted.
Carolyn asks about my family. I give a quick rundown, ending with, “The Lord blessed me with three compliant children; then just to shake things up a bit, He gave me one who is more—hmmm—strong-willed?” I nod towards my blond baby for the moment playing harmoniously.
“You’re a Christian!” Carolyn smiles. “Me too!”
“Wonderful!” I return her smile. And then confess my earlier confusion.
She laughs, “Not surprising. My husband Ron is Pakistani; when we’re out with our four children we do get some strange looks.”
“How did Ron come to America?” I ask. “I’d love to hear, if that’s alright.”
Carolyn offers a cup of tea and enthusiastically shares family history, “Ron’s great-great-great-grandfather on his father’s side lived in India. When he converted from Hinduism to Christianity, he had to flee for his life into Pakistan. Wanting to identify himself with his new faith he changed the family name to Isaac, from the Bible. None of the family knows what his name was originally, or why or when the s was added.”
“You could ask when you see him in heaven.”
“Yes!” Carolyn agrees. “It’s amazing to me how the family flourished for several generations in Pakistan, continuing to follow Jesus. Then Ron’s father married a woman whose mother was raised in a Christian orphanage there.”
“I’ll bet there’s a fascinating story behind that orphanage.”
“Yes, I wish I knew more.”
I follow her down the hallway where family photos crowd the walls.
“When did they marry?”
“1936, I believe.”
“Was there much British influence in Pakistan?”
“It was originally part of India so yes,” she replies. “Ron still speaks with a trace of British accent although he’s worked hard to get rid of it.”
“Why would he want to do that?” I wonder.
“I’m not sure,” Carolyn shakes her head. “I like it myself.”
We sip tea, peering at more photos.
“After the India-Pakistani Partition War in 1948,” Carolyn continues, “Ron’s father became concerned about Muslims taking over the government. He began planning to leave. Ron was the third of five children, but as first son had the privilege of being given a good education. He arrived in the United States in 1961 and attended the University of Chicago.”
She explains that Ron’s parents and siblings followed over a period of time funded by Ron’s paternal grandmother, a wealthy midwife in Pakistan.
“There are now over one hundred of her descendents living in Canada and the U.S,” Carolyn boasts.
“Wow! Did the wealthy grandmother come too?”
Carolyn shakes her head. “Grandmother’s brother tricked her into believing that none of her family wanted her to join them. When she died he seized her estate.”
“True,” Carolyn says. “But I’m grateful to her. Because of her I bear the name of Isaacs. It means laughter, you know! My maiden name was Bland and I never liked thinking of myself as dull and uninteresting.”
“You know, Carolyn, although we’ve just met, I have a feeling you are far from dull and uninteresting.” My laughter joins with my new friend, little realizing we’ll still be sharing our sorrows and joys a quarter of a century later.
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